Does the Bible say anything about being a people pleaser?
People pleasing may sound like a positive trait upfront. It seems admirable to want to be kind to others and make them happy. However, seeking to please other people is different from genuinely seeking their best interest. Also, inherent in the concept of being a people pleaser is the associated idea that people pleasers do things based on the amount of favor they think it will get them from others. This type of people pleasing is not actually pleasing other people at all, because it is inherently self-pleasing. What's the distinction? People pleasing becomes unhealthy when pleasing others is more of a motivator than pleasing God. When we're working to please other people in the moment so as to gain favor to make ourselves feel good, rather than seeking their best, we are not loving others as God loves them. When we're making the reaction of other people our standard for how we evaluate ourselves, we're looking to other people as gods rather than to God, which is idolatry. This imbalance leads to unnecessary stress and is contrary to the will of God for our lives.
At the core, people pleasing is rooted in insecurity and a deep need for the approval of others. It is selfish because people pleasing is, in reality, an attempt for the "pleaser" to feel valuable. While a people pleaser may be a sensitive person who genuinely cares about making others happy, it can easily go awry when the pleaser enables another person to continue in a life of unhealth or sin, for instance, by making them feel good instead of challenging them to righteous living instead. People pleasing will also fail to fill the void in the life of the people pleaser. It is impossible to please everyone all the time; if our worth is based on how other people view us, it is an ever-changing evaluation that all too often comes up short. People pleasing is neither good for the pleaser or the people he or she is trying to please.
People pleasing behavior is an open door for unhealthy codependency to enter a relationship. People pleasing can also turn into manipulation because the pleaser is speaking or behaving in a certain way in order to get a desired result. Sometimes this behavior is rooted in being envious of others around us—they have more status, popularity, possessions, etc. than we feel that we do, so we try to compensate by getting the approval of others. This unhealthy sort of people pleasing is a version of idolatry because it values others over God (see John 12:42–43). Galatians 5:25 instructs us to keep in step with the Spirit; we cannot do this if we are trying to keep in step with others (see Matthew 6:24; Acts 5:29).
Jesus is our perfect example of how to live, because while He did good for others (Acts 10:38), He lived only to please His Father, God (John 8:29). This required Him to speak uncomfortable truths, even when faced with the anger and judgment of others (Matthew 23:15; John 18:37). Second Timothy 4:3 gives us a picture of people pleasing behavior within the church: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." There are preachers who say what people want to hear for the purpose of growing their personal ministry; and there are people who choose to listen to preachers or other speakers because of the positive emotional uplift they get from the message, not because the message is based in truth. How a message is presented is not what is important, but the underlying motive should always be to live lives pleasing to God: "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
Arguably the most awful part of people pleasing is how it keeps us trapped within our own selves, unable to be all that God has planned for us to be. It causes us to keep our mouths shut when we should be using them to speak truth rather than flattering words, and it makes us feel threatened when we do speak, because we worry we will lose the favor of others that we have worked so carefully to cultivate. Rather than rest secure in Christ, we live anxiously seeking the approval of others.
As is the case with any area of sin that the Lord reveals to us, the first step to freedom from people pleasing is to confess it as sin and ask for God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Lay down your pride and fully surrender to Him. Acknowledge your need for the forgiveness, redemption, and renewal in this area that only God can provide. The psalmist encourages us of God's faithful forgiveness: "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32:5; see Romans 3:23; Titus 3:5).
Then we need to replace our misguided people pleasing tendencies with the truth of God. Increase in your knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Read the Word, pray, fast, and seek to know God more. The Bible instructs us to look to glorify God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31). It helps us to discern our own motives—and when we may be going astray; it keeps us honest (see Hebrews 4:12). The Bible tells us who God is, how He loves us, how He is faithful, and how we can trust in Him. We are less prone to people pleasing when we accurately understand God's character and His demeanor toward His children. We must renew our minds to the truth of God's Word and be ready to surrender afresh to Him each day (Luke 9:23).
Another thing you can do is seek the help of a godly counselor, leader, or friend to help encourage, pray with, and support you on your journey to freedom from people pleasing. Hebrews 3:13 encourages all believers in this: "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." People pleasing is a common struggle. We can benefit from the wisdom and support of others as we learn to let go of our pride and insecurities and instead interact with others out of love for God and His love for them.
It is commendable to serve others and be concerned for their interests, but not when it comes at the cost of pleasing the Lord (Philippians 2:1–11). People pleasing doesn't bring true value to others or to you—it is devoid of meaning—but when you seek to please God, those words and actions have the ability to enrich others and you at the same time because they are empowered by the Spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 2:3–8). You cannot serve God without having others be unhappy with you at times, but when you know God and His love for you, you will naturally begin to care more about pleasing Him than you do about pleasing others.
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